Figuring It Out
“So, I don’t know if I told you . . .” I was taking a calm walk through the woods with my dad and my chocolate labradoodle. “But I applied for this fellowship called Rising Voices.”
“No, I don’t think you did,” my dad responded in accented English. “What’s that?”
I paused for a moment, not exactly sure how to explain the program—especially since I wasn’t quite sure myself what it was. “Well . . .”
My dad waited patiently, his kind face hidden by a black beard.
“You know what a blog is?” He nodded. “Well, if I get in, I’ll be working for a blog. A Jewish Feminist blog.”
He paused, waiting for me to elaborate. “Are you a feminist?”
“Yeah,” I said, slightly indignant, “of course!”
“Oh. A . . . Jewish Feminist?”
“Well, what the heck do Jewish and Feminist have to do with each other?”
I was about to be angry when I realized that I didn’t know the answer to this question myself. Being Jewish and being Feminist certainly weren’t mutually exclusive, but how much did they really have in common? Traditional Jewish communities are known for segregating women during religious services and frowning upon females who choose to wear jeans or tank tops outdoors. Even the Torah, the holy book that has taught me the values of kindness and acceptance, frequently pushes women onto the sidelines of our history.
And feminism? Feminism, to my limited understanding, was a humanist movement.
A secular movement.
So how in the world was the rigid, traditional, millenniums-old practice of Judaism in any way connected to feminism, a movement that aims to restructure societies’ ideals and question tradition? How could I identify as both a believing Jew and as a feminist, not to mention lumping them together into one phrase? The more I repeated them to myself, the more the words ‘Jewish’ and ‘feminist’ sounded incorrect side by side, like “candied broccoli” or “kind bigot.” Coming to terms with these two ideologies simultaneously sounded strange and artificial.
Well, I reminded myself, you’re not exactly a Chasid.
I am Jewish, but I have never considered myself particularly religious. I am far from a traditional Jew. Sure, I go to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services each autumn and light Shabbat candles every once in a while, but that’s about as far as I go. I have never truly believed that the Torah was literally God’s word—I see the Torah as very important, but far from the absolute truth. I have always thought it was more important for our tradition to evolve and adapt to its surroundings. In short, I consider myself a Reform Jew.
So maybe for me, feminism could and should fit into the picture. Of everyone in my immediate family, my mother and I, the only two women of the household, were the most observant and interested in Judaism. The two of us are always the ones to lead the Seder or introduce new holidays and religious traditions to our family. The last two bar mitzvah services in our family had actually been bat mitzvah services. For me personally, my Jewish identity and my identity as a female had, in fact, come from the same source: my mother.
I turned back to look at my dad. In many ways, he is the polar opposite of my mom. While she has been a source of guidance spiritually and morally, my father has always been the voice of reason in our household. Balancing my father’s decided atheism with my mother’s growing religious observance has been both a challenge and a blessing for our family. I am used to the process of blending different and even conflicting ideologies. “I’m not sure,” I responded finally, smiling. “That’s why I want to do this program. To figure it out.”
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Kozukhin, Yana. "Figuring It Out." 24 October 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 26, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/figuring-it-out>.